Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Von Bondies write from the 'Heart'

CD reviews

The Von Bondies

Pawn Shoppe Heart

Sire/Reprise; $13.98

Fans of the Von Bondies (vocalist-guitarist Jason Stollsteimer, guitarist Marcie Bolen, bassist Carrie Smith, drummer Don Blum) will hear plenty of familiar stuff in this new batch of material, starting with the fiery, punky garage attack developed through years of teeth-cutting on the Detroit scene and continuous touring.

But there's a new vibe lurking about Pawn Shoppe Heart, a Stollsteimer homage to the countless broken romances marked by forsaken rings in dingy Detroit hock shops. There's tautness in the chops and pop intelligence in the songwriting and arrangements that separate the new album from the young band's previous work - and make it one of the better major-label renditions of the New Old-Rock Sound that has been negotiated less successfully by acts like the Strokes and the Vines.

"C'mon C'mon," with its ruthlessly catchy chorus, is the album's no-brainer hit, which is why the single has already lit up the UK airwaves and is starting to catch stateside spins. There's more of that among the baker's dozen tracks: the wiry opener "No Regrets," the punchy "Tell Me What You See," the New Wavy "Not That Social."

It's the improved writing of Stollsteimer that makes it possible. Though it's still easy to spot the minimalist influences of former mentor Jack White of the White Stripes, the album also reveals considerable growth by the Von Bondies' leading man, who has developed an ear for hooks and a nose for high standards.

Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press

Zero 7

When It Falls

Elektra; $17.98

Almost three years ago, the British downbeat group Zero 7 emerged with the sweeping, heart-tugging album Simple Things, featuring uplifting singles like "In the Waiting Line." The tunes were drenched with strings, stylish analog synthesizers and other calming instrumentation. Often compared to similar mellow mavens like Air, Zero 7 proved that it was more than just another coffeehouse-friendly act via the impressively chilling use of vocal guests such as Mozez, Sia Furler and Sophie Barker. Now comes the oft-dreaded sophomore record.

Happily, the stunning, rapturous When It Falls doesn't change the formula. Yes, there are uplifting, heart-swelling melodies and soothing, reflective productions that are bathed in overt emotions and sensual vocals. And all the guests from Simple Things are back. Most notable are Furler, who brings warm yet scruffy vocals on the soaring "Somersault" and the equally effervescent "Speed Dial No. 2," and the gently soulful Mozez.

There's no question that Zero 7 still sometimes sounds like Air, but it also has developed its own take on the ethereal side of music, concentrating on slow builds and cool vibes. When It Falls is a great mood setter, day or night

Tim Pratt, Detroit Free Press


Tangled in the Pines

Dualtone; $15.94

The retro-country outfit that took hipsters and critics (but, alas, not country fans and radio) by storm in the mid-'90s is back after a lengthy absence with an album of all-original material and a new lineup that includes guitarist-vocalist Chris Scruggs. (Yes, he's Earl Scruggs' grandson.) Frontman and founder Chuck Mead, who wrote or co-wrote nearly every track, draws on the usual boogie and honky-tonk sources for this musical journey, but he also makes stops in Appalachia, Memphis and Bakersfield.

The hard-driving, electrified honky-rocker "No Friend of Mine," which band members describe as "George Jones meets the Clash," is notable, as is the lovely old-time heartbreaker "She's Talking to Someone (She's Not Talking to Me)," which is wisely delivered without a trace of the irony that sometimes hangs uneasily around BR549 tunes.

Greg Crawford, Detroit Free Press

Wynton Marsalis Quartet

The Magic Hour

Blue Note, $18.98

Wynton Marsalis' technical mastery as a trumpeter and prowess as a composer have never been in doubt, but sometimes his music has come across as overcalculated, more pedantic than passionate. That's not the case with The Magic Hour, his debut on the Blue Note label, which finds Marsalis cutting loose in a playful, exuberant after-hours set of eight original songs.

Marsalis pulls all the tricks out of his virtuoso hat in his sizzling solo on "Free to Be," with pianist Eric Lewis also getting a chance to strut his stuff. Bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Ali Jackson provide strong rhythmic backing on "Skipping," which portrays children at play with its sudden stops and starts. However, sometimes things get a little too cute: an example is guest Bobby McFerrin's vocals on "Baby, I Love You."

All of Marsalis' basic jazz attitudes can be found in the 13-minute title piece - a musical portrait of the two magic hours before and after parents put their children to bed.

The piece starts with rapid-fire "Flight of the Bumblebee"-style trumpet, and it veers into the avant-garde and swinging passages, reflecting kids running around like crazy before bedtime, and ends with a blues and a reflective romantic ballad as the parents enjoy some quiet.

Charles J. Gans, The Associated Press

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